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Posts Tagged ‘Mountain Climbing in New Hampshire’

Last Saturday was supposed to be a gorgeous day according to the weather people so I headed out early for Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. In my opinion no other mountain can compare for foliage viewing, because this one has a 360 degree view. By the time I got there though, the parking area was filled so I had to park on the road. The view above is what I saw on the other side.

I always take a photo of the trail so you can at least get an idea of my surroundings but on this climb I had to fiddle faddle around while the people ahead of me turned the corner. But they didn’t turn the corner right away because they were taking photos-of all things, the bits of nature all around them that caught their eyes. I gave them a silent hooray and shot the side of the trail instead. Even then they still made it into the shot but oh well, now you know there were people there. A lot of people.

Lady ferns were turning white as they always do in fall. Besides sensitive fern it’s one of the earliest to do so.

Clubmosses were clubbing, just as they do every year at this time. Their spores form in spike-like structures called sporophylls, which are the yellowish green “clubs” seen here. A single clubmoss plant can take twenty years to grow from a spore, so I try to never harm them.

I turned to look at Mount Monadnock and saw the haze, present for weeks now, from the western wildfires. If you look at satellite imagery you can sometimes see a trail of smoke from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

I knew that the haze meant that It wouldn’t be a day for far off views but when the near views looked like this I had a hard time caring.

The farmer had baled all the hay, I’m guessing for the Scottish Highland cattle that live here. Do they live this high up in Scotland? I wondered. I’ve often thought they had the best view of anybody.

I moved aside to let people by and fell in a small hole off the side of the trail. I could have twisted my ankle if I hadn’t had good stout hiking boots on, and it reminded me how easy it is to get hurt on rough trails like this. Each year the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game goes on average 190 rescue missions, which costs the state about $308,952 per year. Because of this they have started charging the people who have had to be rescued due to their own negligence. An example of negligence would be climbing this trail without proper footwear and in the winter without proper winter clothing. I’ve been up here in January and it’s no joke.

I’ve seen people climbing this trail in flip flops believe it or not, and that’s their choice but if they get hurt and have to be carried from the mountain, they will be charged for the adventure. The elderly and children who get lost are not charged and neither are those who have a medical emergency, but being foolish in the woods here in New Hampshire could cost you a few hundred dollars.

I won’t tell you how many times I have tried and failed at this photo but today the light was just right and I finally got it. What is it? It shows what black knot disease can do to a cherry tree. Black knot is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth.

This photo I took previously shows what black know looks like on a young tree. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots which will eventually become serious wounds like that seen in the previous photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

The blackberries have taken on their beautiful fall purple and bronze colors. You have to just stand for a moment or two admiring them because they’re so pretty.

There were lots of leaves still on the maples, even though many have fallen in the lowlands. It has most likely been warmer up here because cold air flows like a stream down mountainsides and pools in the valleys below. Since I live in a valley I tend to notice it more.

I saw a dead staghorn sumac and had to have a look at the bark, because the inner bark of the tree is often bright red as this example was. I’ve read that the powdered bark can be made into a good antiseptic salve that can be used to treat burns.

I was out of breath by the time I saw the fire tower from the old ranger cabin, so I decided to sit for a spell.

I was sitting on the porch and heard “Oh cool! What is that?” I stood up and saw 4 or 5 young boys, probably just into their teens. “It’s the ranger station,” I told them. “Does anyone live there? Can we go inside?” I answered no to both questions. “But you can stand on the porch,” I said as I moved along. Of course they raced down the trail and did just that. I remembered when I could race down trails. And up them.

The old mountain ash had not only been stripped of all its fruit by birds, the wind had taken all its leaves as well. Now it’s ready for its winter sleep.

There was that smoky, yellowy haze again and I thought of the poor people in the western part of the country. We had a terrible fire here once; in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the fire tower and all of the trees and vegetation on the summit. Terrible it was, but it was nothing like what is happening on the west coast.

The colors at the summit were beautiful, especially the deep reds of the blueberries.

Speaking of blueberries, Josh Fecteau from the Josh’s Journal blog over there in the favorite links section asked me to take another look at what I identified as the native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum.) The berries I looked at this time were in the center of this bush, which by its leaves I know is  the highbush blueberry bush (Vaccinium corymbosum.) The problem is, all of the various species of bushes grow in a tangled thicket so it can be difficult to know what you’ve got. 

Josh thought these might instead be the fruit of the Chokeberry (Aronia sp.) and I have to say that they don’t look quite right for a blueberry, so I think he’s correct. Personally I don’t get too excited about such things but I know Josh is a forager and such things are very important to foragers, so his intentions and motivations are good ones. Though I have been studying nature since I was a boy and have had some formal training in botany I still consider myself very much an amateur, because there is simply too much to know. I’ve met a few in life who thought they knew it all but so far in my experience none has, and that includes me. I do make mistakes and people should always verify any plant identification they find on this blog if they intend to use that plant in any way.

The sun was coming directly at me when I tried for this shot of the meadows below.

I had to wait for a few people to move on before I could get a good view of what I call the near hill. It was beautiful; well worth waiting for. Just an endless, unbroken forest of color stretching off to the horizon.

A 4.8 million square mile forest of color.

If there was a triangle in the center of this marker it would be part of a triangulation point but since there isn’t it’s there for a surveyor to know where the point of his plumb bob should fall to be dead accurate. Right on that cross in the very center I’d guess, or maybe over the tiny hole I’ve never noticed before.

I don’t know this lichen’s name and I don’t really care. It’s beauty and the challenge of getting its photo was enough.

The overhead wire that I accidentally got in this shot is one of the cables that keeps the fire tower from blowing off the top of mountain.

And I’m not kidding. On this day it was extremely windy and there were a couple of gusts that almost blew me over. You’d have thought it was January.

Wind is to be expected up here, sometimes very strong winds, but on this day it didn’t really bother me because I was lost in the colors.

The ferns wanted attention and they had mine.

It had rained a bit during the past week but it was enough to top off what I call the bird bath, apparently. In fact I’ve never seen it go dry, and that’s a little amazing. I sat for a while hoping a bird would stop in to bathe or drink but none came. It didn’t matter; it was a glorious day with filled with sunshine and incredible beauty everywhere I looked, and I knew that I lacked not one single thing. You really can’t ask for more than that.

I saw a wooly bear caterpillar on the trail. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will be very mild indeed. Wooly bears don’t care much about winter though, because they produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live but I’d bet that it lives a rich, full and satisfying life.

The last time I was up here in August the backs of my legs were bothering me enough so I was a little apprehensive about the trip down but on this trip they felt fine. I didn’t fly down the trail to catch up with the people you see there ahead of me but I did okay.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

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Last weekend I felt the urge to climb, so off I went to Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I know better than to deny the urge because it only gets stronger as time passes. The town History of Swanzey, New Hampshire says that Mount Caesar was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers here. Some believe that he is is buried somewhere on it.

One of the first things I saw was a nice clump of lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids. Its beautiful pouch like pink flowers appear in May and last for a week or two, depending on the weather. I was happy to find them growing all along the trail, almost to the summit.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. This one had apparently been pollinated because it had a seed pod.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) bloomed in sunnier spots along the trail. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian Tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I saw a bright yellow, very hairy caterpillar on a twig. I believe it might be a Virginian tiger moth caterpillar (Spilosoma virginica.) This caterpillar is also called yellow bear and I think this is the first time I’ve seen one. I’m not sure what those four yellow bumps are.

Up and up I went. Mount Caesar is the most difficult climb I do these days but by normal standards it really isn’t that difficult unless you have breathing issues. I saw two or three people race up and down it before I even made it to the top but they weren’t interested in what they might see along the trail. Only the end of the trail is important to many people and they miss a lot of the beauty of nature by thinking that way. Some are even more interested in listening to their phones than the birds and I saw that happening here as well. All I can say about that is, if you are in the woods to enjoy nature racing through them as fast as you can go and plugging your ears so you can’t hear anything is not considered being in nature. Being in nature means allowing it to fill all of your senses while you are there. It means being completely immersed in the experience. When you are there be there, fully. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll get far more out of the experience.

What I believe were ink cap mushrooms grew in the middle of the trail, but just because something is obvious doesn’t always mean it is seen and I doubt anyone noticed them because a few had been stepped on. I think they might have been the hare’s foot ink cap (Coprinopsis lagopus) but I could be wrong. I do know from personal experience that ink caps can appear very different at different times; even at different times of the same day, because their lives are very short. I liked the maroon shimmer of these examples. These mushrooms often grow in the forest, as these did.

Once they produce spores they’re done, and that usually takes one day but on this day there were plenty more coming. They’re called ink caps because their caps liquify and turn into what looks like ink.

I saw things here on this day that I’ve never seen before and one of them was shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) producing spores. The yellowish club like spore producing sporophylls at the tip of each plant are where the spores are produced and once the spores are released to the wind they can take up to 20 years to germinate. In my experience sporophylls aren’t common on this clubmoss. The leaves, called microphylls, resemble scales more than actual leaves and for some reason they are very shiny. Shining clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Note: A helpful reader has pointed out that this is actually bristly clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum,) which I’ve never heard of. Shining clubmoss doesn’t produce sporophylls, which explains why I never see them.  

Another thing I discovered on this day was that the unripe berries of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) are white. This plant is also called checkerberry and it is the first plant I ever learned well enough to know on sight, probably when I was just 5 or 6 years old. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin. Since I’ve known these berries as red my entire life seeing them white was quite a surprise. I don’t suppose I’ve ever wondered what they would look like in their unripe state.

I was trying to capture the beautiful luminosity of the forest when I heard a loud crashing behind me. I thought “Oh great, another bear” but no, it was a deer. It stopped and watched me for a bit, blending into the forest so well that I couldn’t get a shot of it from where I was. Of course as soon as I started moving so did the deer, and it was off like a shot. The odd thing was it didn’t really run away; I could hear it jumping and thrashing in the woods for a while afterwards as I continued climbing, as if it was running along beside me.

I saw the deer clearing stone walls with ease, jumping so high it had feet to spare. I was wishing I had legs that could do  that.

A young oak had fallen and split lengthwise to reveal that it was completely hollow, most likely chewed up by carpenter ants. There are far more hollow trees in the woods than most people realize. If you have a tree on your property and you see what looks like sawdust around its base you should call an arborist, especially if it is near your house. Friends of mine had their barn cut in half by a hollow white pine that fell on it just a few years ago.

I could look at this all day. It is worthy of hanging in an art gallery, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it in the fall. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Yellow spots form on wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves before fall even arrives, and they slowly grow larger until the entire leaf is yellow. This is one of the earliest plants to start turning color in the fall.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful light coming through the trees. At times it was hard to focus on anything else.

Before you know it (unless you’re climbing with me) you’re at the summit. I remember how surprised I was the day I realized that I had been climbing a huge piece of granite. The trail ends just as it begins; with bare granite bedrock.

There is a glacial erratic up here that is nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It is said to rock back and forth like the 40 ton glacial erratic over on Hewe’s Hill called Tippin Rock, but I didn’t feel like heaving and grunting over boulders on this day.

Instead I wanted to visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulose.) Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily. They are naturally a deep pea green but when dry they turn ash gray as this one has. They will simply sit and wait for rain for eons if necessary and they, along with great blue herons, have taught me a lot about patience.

All those black dots on the lichen in the previous photo are this lichen’s fruiting bodies, where it’s spores are produced. I’ve noticed that they often seem to form where the lichen stays wettest longer after a rain. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecium) could easily hide behind one. The apothecium is where the lichen’s spores are produced and in this case it is tiny black disc with a sunken center that makes it look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This photo isn’t great but I was happy that it showed the detail that it does. What looks like a piece of wood in the upper right is actually a bit of a white pine needle, if that tells you anything about scale.

The views weren’t very good but that didn’t bother me. As I’ve said before, if I climbed for the view I’d be disappointed most of the time, because views are weather dependent. On this day there was a milky sky and that almost always means that far off scenes and landscapes will not reproduce well in the camera. In fact it isn’t that I don’t enjoy the views, it’s the trying to reproduce them that I don’t enjoy. If I ever stop blogging I can easily see myself no longer carrying a camera when I’m in the woods.

This is what I mean by a milky sky; almost pure white. Still, in my opinion there’s no such thing as a bad photo of Mount Monadnock, so I’ll just leave you with this one. 

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. ~Ansel Adams

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Last weekend was relatively dry, warm and sunny but there really was no humidity to speak of, so I decided to climb Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. It’s an easy climb and that’s what I needed because my legs were telling me that the 18 years of age I felt in my mind applied only to my mind, and not to my legs. “Think young and be young” I remembered from somewhere, so up I went.

I saw a single orange mushroom on a log and though it looked like an orange mycena (Mycena leaiana) I’m not so sure that it was. It looked too pale and orange mycenas usually grow in groups, but I have read that the orange can wash out of this mushroom in a heavy rain, and it won’t grow in groups if it’s too dry. Mushrooms are 90-95% water and if it’s too dry they simply won’t grow.

The gills certainly looked right for an orange mycena as far as shape but the color doesn’t wash out of them and I thought they looked a little pale.  I wonder if it wasn’t the fuzzy foot mushroom (Xeromphalina campanella,) which is similar.

In any event I couldn’t wonder about mushrooms all day so I continued up the trail to the meadow, which is a good spot to catch one’s breath. Since I live in a forest and work in a forest seeing a view like this is amazingly refreshing and expansive. I don’t see many like it.

From here on the trail gets very rocky so I always wear good hiking boots when I come here. It really seems to get worse each year but they have been working on parts of it.  

The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state but especially on Pitcher Mountain, and people come from all over to pick them. I saw a few but most had already been picked.

There are two varieties of blueberry here on the mountain and this one is the native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum.) It has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and is darker in color. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though they are both native berries many people don’t want these berries because they seem to think that they aren’t blueberries, so most of them go untouched by the pickers. When I come up here in January I find them mummified by the thousands, still on the bushes. I’ve eaten many of both kinds and in my experience one isn’t any better or worse than the other, in my opinion.

Before I knew it I was at the old ranger station, which is another place I stop to catch my breath. Quite a while ago someone or something (like a bear) broke the boards off one of the windows so I thought I’d see if it had been repaired.

Someone had screwed a piece of plywood over the open window, so that should keep out whatever or whoever wanted to get in.

I felt lucky to have seen the inside of the place so I’ll post this photo of it once again. Chances are it’ll be a long time before I see it again, if ever. It was 1940s all the way and as we can see someone or something checked all the cupboards. A lot of card or cribbage playing probably went on at that 2 legged table. I grew up with one much like it but ours had 4 legs.

There is an old mountain ash tree (Sorbus americana) near the ranger station and it was loaded with ripening berries. Mountain ash is used ornamentally because of its white flowers in late spring and bright orange berries in the fall, but it is a native tree. Native Americans made a tea from the bark and berries of this tree to treat coughs, and as a pain killer. They also ate the died and ground berries for food, adding them to soups and stews. The berries are said to be very tart and have an unpleasant taste when unripe.

I always think of the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

I took a look at what I call the near hill. It rises like a great burial mound out of the forest. It is completely covered with forest, much like I’ve heard Pitcher Mountain once was. My question has always been: if the fire burned Pitcher Mountain down to the bedrock and killed all the vegetation why didn’t that happen on this hill? It isn’t that far away from this summit.

I could see the new wind farm over in Antrim if I pushed my camera to the limit of its zoomability. There were many more windmills than these three but I couldn’t fit them all in one photo.

I love seeing the shading on the blue hills from up here. If I had to choose between color and detail I’d have to choose color as what I’d rather see. I can imagine the details but I think it would be difficult to imagine the colors. Although now that I think about it since I have a certain amount of color blindness there is always a bit of imagination involved.

I was able to sit for a while and watch the cloud shadows move over the hills below. This is something I always liked to do as a boy and I still do.

What I call the birdbath had plenty of water in it. I didn’t see any birds splashing in it on this day but I have in the past.

The old tower tie downs reminded me of the tornado warnings we’d had just a few days before. These towers can stand some pretty terrible winds, I’d guess.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) grow profusely all over the bedrock up here. This crustose lichen is very granular and was once used to dye wool in Sweden, but I can’t imagine how they ever got them off the rocks. Crustose lichens usually can’t be removed from the substrate they grow on without damaging it in some way.

This is another view of the hazy distant hills.

A flower I’ve only seen here grows in the cracks in the rocks at the summit. Mountain white cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) is also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf. The white 5 petaled flowers are small; maybe a half inch across on a good day. At a glance they could be mistaken for wild strawberry flowers but wild strawberries have yellow centers. These plants are said to bloom for 2 or 3 months and make an excellent choice for a sunny rock garden that doesn’t get too hot, because they don’t like heat. They must be struggling this summer because it has been hot. We’ve had a long string of mid-80 to 90 degree days.

The climb didn’t help my creaky legs any but that didn’t bother me because being on a mountaintop is something I’ve missed, and climbing is something I’ve never regretted doing. They call to you and they don’t stop calling until you climb, and then they are still for a while. But just a while.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber.

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I like to see what the fall colors look like from above so each year I climb a hill or mountain to have a look. I’ve been climbing at Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard for a few years now because it’s a relatively easy climb and because it has a 360 degree view from the summit.

Beech trees are changing into their bright yellows down in the lower towns so I thought they’d be well along here. They were indeed, and if I went by the colors along the trail I guessed that I was going to see plenty of color at the summit.

A few months ago when I was here I noticed that someone had placed what they must have considered a special stone on to of a boulder. I was happy to see that people had thought enough of the person who put it there to leave it alone. When I first saw it I picked it up to look at it and almost tossed it into the woods but thankfully I realized it meant something to someone, so I put it back where I found it.

In May I saw a big black bear right here in the meadow, but on this day I saw Scottish highland cattle. These pastures are for them but I don’t see them here very often. I’m guessing that the scent of the bear was long gone, because they seemed to be at peace and didn’t even look my way.  

With views like this who wouldn’t be at peace?

Up we go along the trail that parallels the pasture. I should say that good, sturdy hiking boots would be a good idea here. The trail gets very rocky and there are many tree roots.

An old apple tree along the trail bore a considerable crop of fruit. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s, but I doubt this was anything they planted. It was an old tree but not that old.  

I noticed that nobody had boarded up the open window on the ranger cabin yet, and that got me wondering how often forestry officials actually come up here.

I took another look at the 1940s interior. I don’t know if a bear got in here or not but something or someone had been foraging, by the looks of things.

In all the years I’ve been coming here I’ve seen someone in the fire tower just once, and that day they were letting people in. There was such a line waiting though, that I passed it up. This is considered a manned fire tower but I wonder when. It is possible that it’s only manned during times of high fire danger, I suppose.

There was plenty of fall color on the summit. The red of blueberry bushes and yellow of ferns made a beautiful scene, I thought.

There was a haze in the distance but you couldn’t beat the color nearby.

This shot shows the meadows where the highland cattle were from above.

There were lots of people up here on this day and most were either simply staring or taking photos. I did quite a lot of both because it was so beautiful.

There were lots of blueberry bushes that had lost their leaves but there were still lots of berries on them.  

I took far too many photos but I think you can probably see why. It was just breathtaking up there.

It appears as just a speck in this photo but there was a dark eyed junco bathing in the water that collects in the natural depressions in this bedrock. That’s why I call them the birdbaths.

A tiger moth must have flown up here at some point because I saw a couple of wooly bear caterpillars on the summit.

The rocks of the summit are covered with many different lichens and I always try to stop and take a look at one or two of them.

On this day I chose common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) for a close up photo. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone, especially slate. I see it on older gravestones quite often and it grows by the thousands on some hill and mountain summits. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but these had a few. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

One last look at the colors on the summit.

I’ve often said here that I don’t climb for the view because if I did I’d be disappointed about 9 out of 10 times, but on this day I did climb for the view and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I could have stayed up there all day but what goes up must come down and so I started back down the trail. Though I’m still 18 in my mind my body keeps interrupting that dream and one of my knees has been acting up lately, but I told myself that if a 5 year old, her grandparents and their dog could do it then so could I. Despite a little discomfort I made it down without a hitch, so I was happy. What a wonderful day it turned out to be.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber.

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It’s blueberry picking time here in New Hampshire and one of the best local places I know of to do that is on Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. Wild blueberry season in New Hampshire usually starts around the end of July and people come from all over to pick them. I like to come here at this time not to pick blueberries but to meet the people who do.

The trail, as mountains go, is relatively easy to climb even for me and I often meet elderly people climbing here.

Hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) line the trail and they were starting to turn white, here and there. Another signal that fall is in the air. This fern likes shade and will tolerate extreme dryness as well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. It does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

A young mountain ash tree was covered with wooly aphids, almost from the soil to its tip. These sucking insects can be winged or unwinged. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of trees and in spring nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage. I’m guessing that this young tree will be severely weakened by such large numbers of aphids. The drops of liquid are their waste, which is called “honeydew.” It’s very sticky and often leads to sooty black mold.

Someone left a small stone on top of a larger one. I used to collect rocks and minerals and I could see that it wasn’t anything special. I almost tossed it into the woods but then I thought that it might have been special to the person, possibly a child, who left it there, so I put it back. Speaking of children I saw a few here on this day, and that made my heart glad. There’s no such thing as too many kids in the woods, and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is introducing them to nature.

There were lots of white whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) growing along the trail but many hadn’t bloomed yet. This plant can take quite a lot of shade.

The leaves were all mottled on this wood aster. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what would have caused it. It didn’t look like leaf miners.

Before I knew it I was at the meadow. The white puffy clouds though unexpected, were fun to see.

The clouds were unexpected because the weatherman said wall to wall sunshine for the day. Instead it looked like the clouds might be on their way to becoming wall to wall and some were huge. That dark area out there is a cloud shadow.

Theses hay rolls (?) were placed near where I saw the big black bear in May on my last trip up the mountain. I’ve thrown hay bales up onto wagons before but I was very thankful that I never had to roll these big things around. They must be for the Scottish highland cattle that live up here.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) dangled red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

Unfortunately most of the cherries in this area have black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

Flocks of these little gray and black birds flew along the trial beside me. I think they were dark eyed juncos. They were very quiet and didn’t seem frightened of me at all. In fact they were as inquisitive as chipmunks and watched me the whole way.

The old ranger cabin told me I was just a few yards from the summit.

The ranger cabin had me wondering just how often the people in charge come up here, because the boards someone ripped off one of the windows were still missing since at least May. There was also an alarm sounding on the generator that powers the fire tower, but nobody around to silence it.

I’m not sure what would happen if the power was cut to the fire tower. There sure are a lot of antennas on it. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. There were a few up here on this day and I even saw a woman wearing flipflops, which I wouldn’t recommend. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

I met a man with a German (?) accent who was very interested in blueberries. I told him that there were plenty of bushes right here on the summit and he should just help himself. The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state. There are areas where they are more concentrated though, and Pitcher Mountain is one of those areas. This is what the man was after and though they grow in great numbers near the summit he wasn’t having much luck finding any berries. I saw people carrying containers around and I saw ripe berries, so I’m not sure why he wasn’t finding any.

Native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and also grows on the summit. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though I told him that they are both native berries the man with the German accent said he didn’t want these berries because they must be “some kind of strange hybrid.” He wanted native berries he said again, so I finally had to say good hunting and move on. Clearly someone has given him erroneous information about blueberries but it can’t be just him, because most of these berries go untouched by the pickers. When I come up here in January I find them mummified by the thousands, still on the bushes. I’ve eaten many of both kinds and in my experience one isn’t any better or worse than the other, in my opinion. I wish I could have convinced the visitor of that.

It’s been quite dry lately so I was surprised to see water in what I call “the birdbath.” I saw a dark eyed junco taking a bath in it once but they didn’t follow me all the way to the summit to bathe on this day. I did see a black Labrador retriever roll in it though.

There was a certain haziness to the atmosphere so I couldn’t see much detail on  Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey.

Before long the clouds had almost fully come together and they seemed almost low enough to touch. I began to wonder if wall to wall sunshine was going to turn into wall to wall rain.

So off I went back down the trail, wondering about the woman climbing a mountain in flip flops and the poor man who couldn’t find a blueberry even though he was surrounded by thousands of them. I’ve always found it easier to understand plants than people, and sometimes human nature really does baffle me.

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

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The rapidly dropping leaves told me if I was going to climb to see the foliage colors from above I’d better get a move on, so on the 14th I drove over to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard where there is a 360 degree view from the summit. I’ve been having some breathing problems lately and I really didn’t know if I could make it to the summit or not, but I threw caution to the wind and with a good puff on the old inhaler, up I went. Sorry about the lens flare but it was a beautiful sunny day.

There were plenty of opportunities to stop and catch my breath and that was a good thing because if I went by the amount of people coming down as I was going up, it must have been standing room only up there. I’d bet I passed at least twenty people. This photo is of an oak that was already changing into its fall colors.

Beeches are also changing and they along with the changing oaks tell me I had better get over to Willard Pond soon. Willard Pond is especially beautiful at this time of year with its hillsides of yellow beeches and orange, red and purple oaks.

The trail up Pitcher Mountain is short but steep in places and when you feel like you are carrying a weight on your chest it seems even steeper. Pitcher Mountain is named for the Pitcher family who settled here in the mid-1700s. There are still remnants of an apple orchard near the summit, with trees that still bear apples. I doubt they’re from the 1700s but they are quite old.

This is always a stopping place, breathing problems or not. I always feel a great sense of release when I see this view and can imagine I hear a great whooshing sound, as if everything has suddenly been stripped away. There is the earth, the sky, and nothing else but emptiness, and when you’ve lived 60+ years surrounded on all sides by thick forest that emptiness can be very welcoming indeed. I sat on a stone and basked in it and forgot myself for a while.

When I got moving again a blueberry bush on the side of the trail had been caught in a sunbeam, and it was beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks.

While I was admiring the blueberry bush I looked up and saw what I think was a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) on a tree. It was full of beautiful rosy brown apothecia and was producing spores to beat the band. If I hadn’t stopped to admire the blueberry I wouldn’t have seen it.

At the base of the tree with the rosy saucer lichen was a log with a peach colored turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) growing on it, so of course I had to get a photo of it. I don’t see many of them this color. One thing leads to another in nature; the blueberry showed me the lichen and the lichen showed me the turkey tails. I wander like this from interesting thing to interesting thing quite regularly. It’s as easy as looking around closely before you leave any given bit of nature. Before you move on down the trail there’s a good chance that you’ll see something else that catches your eye.

Almost there. Enough dilly dallying.

I was high enough now to look out over the forest I had just come through. It’s called the Andorra Forest and it seems to stretch into infinity. Views like this one in the fall let you pick out individual trees because of their varying color and show just how staggering the number of trees here really is; 4.8 million acres of them.

I could just glimpse the fire tower through the glowing blueberries and sumacs.

From here on is the shortest but steepest part of the trail so I stop at the old ranger’s cabin to catch my breath and prepare for it. I don’t know the history of this cabin but it’s certainly big enough to have held at least 4 people at one time. I’m assuming that people lived here when the fire tower was manned daily. The cabin looks like it’s leaning even more to the left, into the mountainside. How it takes the heavy snow load each winter is anyone’s guess.

Just a few more steps and I’d be on the summit. I was happy (and a tiny bit surprised) that I’d made it. I call the fire tower a monument to irony, because in 1940 the original 1915 built wooden tower burned to the ground, along with 27,000 acres of forest and all the trees on the summit. It was one of the worst fires in state history but it is because of that fire that today we have a full 360 degree view from the summit.

The bedrock showing on the summit is covered in lichens.

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen, which means it grows like a crust and probably couldn’t be removed without damaging whatever it is growing on. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. It must have been very hard work scraping it off the stone and yellow wool must have been very expensive.

One of the first things I look for at the summit is what I call the “near hill.” I was a little disappointed that the colors weren’t brighter and didn’t “pop” more. Capturing fall color from above is a lot harder than one would think. I’ve tried many times, from many different hills and mountains, and I really haven’t ever been completely happy with the results.

It was very beautiful up close but harder to see the colors far away.

I could just see the whirligigs over on Bean Mountain in Lempster. I couldn’t tell but they must have been spinning fast. The wind was brisk to say the least, and the camera had a hard time with them through the haze.

Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog thought the fall colors would look better with a blue sky behind them so I conjured a bluish one up and here it is. I told Jerry that I found when the sun is behind me a photo will almost always show blue water, and I wondered if the same might be true with the sky. As you can see from these photos in many the sky is milky white and in some it’s blue, and I think it must have a lot to do with where the sun was when I took the photo. I’m going to have to pay closer attention to see if it really does work that way. By the way, if you’re a nature lover, especially a bird lover, you really should be reading Jerry’s blog. You can find him right over there in the “Favorite Links” section under Quiet Solo Pursuits. His latest post shows the glorious fall colors found in Michigan.

I met some people from Stoddard up on the mountain who told me I had missed the peak colors by just a few days. “Last Tuesday was best,” they said. Oh well, as Forrest Gump’s momma always said: Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

It had rained the day before my climb so I wasn’t surprised to see the depressions in the stone filled with water. I’ve always called them bird baths and a year or two ago a dark eyed junco let me sit and watch it bathe right here.

There was another oak turning orange and prodding me on to Willard Pond so I don’t miss the show there. We’re not done yet; there is more fall color to come. The oaks there blaze with bright orange and the beeches are lemon yellow and together they often put on an unforgettable show.

Going down was easier on the lungs but harder on the legs and I guess that’s the price you pay for climbing. I had a smile on my face though and I had met a few interesting people and had seen many beautiful things, so I’m not sure I could imagine a better day. I hope you’ll have one just as good real soon.

Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself. ~Annie Leibovitz

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Last Sunday I woke with an urge to climb, so I headed 25 miles north to Stoddard where Pitcher Mountain lives. Since we have no snow in Keene I assumed there would be no snow there, but I was wrong. It was another one of those “what was I thinking?” moments.

But all in all the trail wasn’t bad because it was snow instead of ice. I stopped to get a photo of target canker on a red maple (Acer rubrum.) If I understand what I’ve read correctly red maples are the only trees that get this canker. It makes the tree’s bark form bullseye shaped raised plates that look like a target, but it doesn’t really hurt the tree. The circular plates are the tree’s response to a fungus that invades the healthy bark and kills it. During the next season the tree responds with a new layer of bark and cork (callus) to contain the fungus. In the next dormant season the fungus again attacks and kills more bark and on it goes, a seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response which creates concentric ridges of callus tissue; a target canker. Finally the fungus gives up or dies off and the tree grows on. Red maples have beautiful deep red flowers and the trees often grow in large colonies, so I was hoping to see huge swaths of red from the summit.

I also stopped to see a striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) that grew along the trail. The two large terminal bud scales had started pulling apart to reveal the bud within, just like they were doing 25 miles and over 1,600 feet lower in Keene. The pink and orange fuzzy buds are very beautiful and I’m getting anxious to see them. It won’t be long now.

I had to stop at one of my favorite places, which is the pasture about half way up the trail. I always imagine doors being thrown open and a great whooshing sound when I see this view because it’s so expansive compared to the close woods where I spend most of my time. It’s a peaceful, simple place with just the earth, sky, and you and you can step outside yourself for a while here.

The trail takes a turn after the pasture and gets steeper and rockier as it follows it uphill. On this day I had a choice; mud on one side or snow on the other. I chose the snowy side.

There is a fairly good view of Mount Monadnock from this leg of the trail but low haze often spoils it. It wasn’t too bad on this day.

There is a lot of black knot disease on the black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) here and I stopped to look at an example. Black knot is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus are spread by rain or wind and typically will infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. The disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

This is what black knot can do to a fully grown black cherry. This is a wound that never heals and on a tree this age and size the disease is impossible to control and the trees should be destroyed so the fungus can’t release anymore spores. If this photo looks a little strange it’s because I had to use the flash because it was so shady here.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower from a good distance away before the trees leaf out, but the glimpse signals the start of the steepest part of the climb. The trail had a little snow on it but the summit was snow free, bare granite as usual.

The old forest fire warden’s cabin still stands but each year it seems to lean into the mountainside just a little more. Staying up here must have been hard work no matter what time of year it was.

Pitcher Mountain is one of just a handful of places I know of where Mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) grow naturally. These trees are easy to identify when they don’t have leaves by their big black buds. This example was just starting to turn green. Mountain ash is used ornamentally because of its white flowers in late spring and bright orange berries in the fall, but it is a native tree. Native Americans made a tea from the bark and berries of this tree to treat coughs, and as a pain killer. They also ate the died and ground berries for food, adding them to soups and stews. The berries are said to be very tart and have an unpleasant taste when unripe.

The fire tower was unmanned and so was the summit so I had the whole rock pile to myself, which is a very rare thing. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

A couple of weeks ago we had strong winds with 60 mile per hour gusts and a lot of trees fell in certain areas, so it’s probably a good thing that the fire tower is fastened to the granite of the summit with several stout cables. The wind that day must have made it impossible to stand on the summit. I can imagine the cables vibrating like violin strings in weather like that.

The hill that I call the near hill might be the closest but it would still be quite a hike to reach it. I was surprised by the amount of snow still on it.

I love seeing the blue hills off in the distance and though I don’t climb for the view they do make it much more enjoyable. In case you’re wondering about my not climbing to see the view, if I did I’d be disappointed probably 80% of the time because you never know what haze, humidity, or weather in general will do to it. For instance on this day, though it looks like I could see clear to California, I couldn’t see the windmills over on Bean Mountain just a few miles away.

But I could see the shading on the hills and this is something I find very pleasing. I sat and admired them for a while.

I could also see ski areas on several distant mountains, none of which I know the name of. Skiers must be enjoying some fine spring skiing this year.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) grow profusely all over the bedrock up here. This crustose lichen is very granular and is often busy producing spores, but I didn’t see any of its fruiting bodies (apothecia) on this day. These lichens were once used to dye wool in Sweden but I can’t imagine how they got them off the rocks. Crustose lichens usually can’t be removed from the substrate they grow on without damaging it in some way.

I’m not sure what it was but the sun brought out golden highlights in this tiny insect’s wings. It was hanging on desperately trying not to be blown away in the strong wind, so I was able to get a shot of it. I’d guess that it was hardly more than a quarter inch long.

Tile lichens are areolate lichens, which are made up of many little lumps or islands. In the example above the black parts are its apothecia and the white parts are the body (Thallus.) The apothecia are even with or slightly below the surface of the thallus. Tile lichens grow on exposed rock in full sun and will even grow in winter if the temperature is slightly above freezing. I think this one might be Lecidea tessellata but with 136 species of tile lichens I could easily be wrong.

The natural depressions in the bedrock that I call birdbaths always have water in them, even when we had a drought two years ago, and that seems strange to me. What I think doesn’t matter though, because the birds do use them; last year I watched a dark eyed junco bathe in this small pool. I was a little disappointed at not seeing the large swaths of flowering red maples that I hoped to see from up here but even so I saw plenty of other beautiful things, and it was a great day for a climb.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

 

 

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Last Saturday a good breeze out of the northwest blew away the heat and humidity and, since there was a fall feel to the air, I decided to climb Gap Mountain in Troy, New Hampshire.  Gap Mountain has 3 peaks; north, middle and south, and gets its name from the gap between the middle and southern summits. My GPS said that it was 1.9 miles from the south parking lot to the 1,840 foot high middle summit, but there seems to be a lot of conflicting information online about this distance. The elevation gain is about 640 feet over 1.9 miles for an average 6% grade, again according to my GPS.

1. GM Trail

In the late 1800s there was pasture and farm land all the way to the summit, but now it is heavily forested with second growth forest. This forest is dense enough and has few enough trails to make getting lost a real possibility, but the trail that I used was clearly blazed. It started out easy enough and even went downhill in places, but before too long it became a steady and steep uphill climb.

 2. Indian Tobacco

Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) grows all along the trail in sunny spots. This plant’s common name refers to the inflated calyx that is supposed to resemble tobacco pouches carried by Native Americans. Despite its common name it should never be smoked because it is very toxic.

 3. GM Plank Bridge

The trail crosses a stream but this plank bridge keeps your feet dry. This mountain and the 1,160 acre preserve that it sits on are owned and maintained by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and open to the public year round, even though there is no winter maintenance.

 4. GM Stream

As you look out at this landscape it’s hard to imagine what it looked like a century ago when it was cleared for farming. Cows or sheep probably regularly drank from this stream.

 5. Hemlock Varnish Bracket Fungus aka Ganoderma tsugae

I saw a large hemlock varnished bracket fungus (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on a huge old hemlock stump. It was about as big as a dinner plate and really did look like someone had varnished it.

 6. GM Boulder

Rocks and tree roots mark the upper part of the trail so you’ve got to watch where you step. The boulders that the farmers left in place were left for a good reason-some are as big as cars.

 7. GM Stairs

Some hiking books and websites (and people) will tell you how easy this trail is. If I was still 30 I’d agree with them but, as an ex-smoker on the downhill slide into 60 years, I looked at these stairs after climbing for close to an hour and thought you have got to be kidding me. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were easy compared to what was to follow.

8. GM Trail 2

It gets a little rocky after the stairs. Easy compared to what, I wondered, Mount Everest?

 9. GM Trail 3

Before long the rocks become boulders and bedrock ledges.  In places you have to use both your hands and feet to crawl up and over them, so if you make this climb you’ll want to make sure your hands are free. I wish I’d known this before I climbed-I was carrying a monopod.

 10. Fringed Loosestrife

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) has tucked itself in among the boulders and grows profusely near the summit.  This plant gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks. Sometimes the flower petals are also fringed, but not on this example. I was glad to see it because photographing it gave me a good excuse to stop and rest until I was done huffing and puffing.

 11. Apple Tree

Very near the summit is an abandoned apple orchard with quite a few trees that are still producing.  Nearly the entire summit is covered with native high bush blueberries and people climb up here regularly to pick them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many blueberry bushes growing naturally in one place before. A couple of people were filling plastic containers with them.

 12. Monadnock From GM Summit

When you reach the summit this is the view that greets you. Straight ahead to the north Mount Monadnock rises up out of the forest. At only 3 miles away it seems almost close enough to touch. Mount Monadnock is famous throughout New England and is the second most climbed mountain on earth after Mount Fuji in Japan.  At 3,166 feet it’s high enough to see from just about anywhere in the county.

13. Monadnock From GM Summit

In 1800, fires were intentionally set on Mount Monadnock’s lower slopes to clear them for use as pasture land. Unfortunately the fires burned all the way to the summit, destroying the natural spruce forest that was there. Then in 1820 farmers set fire to the upper slopes to burn out the wolves they thought were living there. That fire burned long enough and hot enough to destroy even the topsoil on the summit and the roots that kept it in place. Before too long rain had washed it all away, leaving the bare granite seen today.

14. View From Gap Mountain

There are great views of the distant hills for nearly 360 degrees from Gap Mountain’s summit.

 15. Gap Mountain Southern Peak

Off to the right (east) as you gaze at Mount Monadnock from the middle peak you see the southern peak looming up above the blueberries and interrupting the 360 degree view. The south peak is completely covered by dense forest and it is said that there are no good views from its summit. It’s a great example of what happens to land in New England that is left alone for a hundred years. This view also looks out over the gap that the mountain is named for.

 16. Gap Mountain from Monadnock

This view of Gap Mountain was taken from a trail on Mount Monadnock. The name of the photographer is unknown.

It wasn’t until I reached the parking lot after the climb down that I saw the notice warning that this was a very strenuous hike over steep terrain. I was glad to know that I hadn’t imagined it.

It’s always further than it looks, it’s always taller than it looks, and it’s always harder than it looks.
 ~The 3 rules of mountaineering

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